Permanent Correction

Fashionable nonsense is a perennial subject, almost by definition. Time passes and fashions change, therefore at any given moment there is likely to be some fashionable and/or conventional wisdom around that needs correcting. Alan Ryan’s obituary for John Rawls in today’s Independent reminds us that Rawls’ theory of justice was among other things a correction of the views of the logical positivists and the utilitarians. Those views were a correction in their turn, and so back and back it goes. Humans being what they are, it can’t really be any other way: we always make mistakes of one kind or another, all we can do is keep patiently correcting each other, trying again, taking it with a good grace when others correct us. As Rawls did, in Ryan’s account: “He rarely took on critics head-on, not because he was hostile to criticism – he much preferred criticism to praise – but because he liked to revise his thoughts with his critics’ assistance, trying always to get clearer and more precise about just what the theory of justice implied.”

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